An interview with Lynne Neagle, Chair of the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee.
The Committee is launching its report on the step-change needed in emotional and mental health support for children and young people in Wales. Why did the Committee choose to look at this issue at this time?
We know that mental health is a huge issue for young people, that 1 in 10 young people will have mental health problems and that most of those mental health problems start at a relatively young age in their teenage years.
It’s the biggest area of concern raised with the Children’s Commissioner, it’s also a big area of concern that’s raised with services like the ChildLine helpline and it was also an issue that featured very strongly when we asked stakeholders to share their priorities with us.
What were the Committee’s main aims for the inquiry?
They were twofold: We wanted to revisit the work of our predecessor committee which did a major piece of work on Specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services back in 2014.
That led to the Welsh Government investing a significant amount of extra money in these specialist services, so we wanted to see whether progress had been made.
We also then wanted to look specifically at what work is being done around the need to build emotional resilience in our young people with a particular focus on early intervention and prevention – a lot of our inquiry has looked at whether that work is underway and how effective it has been.
What are the Committee’s main findings from this report?
It’s a big report with some 27 recommendations, but we’ve made one key recommendation that we think is the most important – that much more needs to be done in terms of early intervention and building our children and young people’s emotional resilience.
We believe that schools and education are absolutely key to that.
Due to the reform of the new curriculum we’ve got a once in a generation opportunity to actually embed learning about emotional resilience into our schools. But it’s not just about the curriculum – it’s also about making sure that everyone who comes into contact with young people understands the importance of emotional resilience and feels comfortable and able to talk to young people about it.
We think it’s crucial that health services work closely with schools to help support this step-change – teachers cannot be expected to shoulder this on their own,
Were any of the findings a surprise?
Personally, I expected the need for early intervention to be a key theme but what was notable was how strongly that came across, and from how many different stakeholders.
These varied from third sector organisations like the Samaritans to the police who, during the course of the inquiry, called for the curriculum to include mental health.
I think that has been the standout issue and unless we get that aspect right, a lot of the other pieces aren’t going to work.
Children and adolescent mental health services
Tackling emotional and mental health issues among children
and young people must now be a national priority.
In 2014, a predecessor Committee was told that too many children and young people were being incorrectly referred to specialist mental health services and that they needed to be helped in other parts of the system. 4 years on has that situation changed?
There have been some improvements but I think it is still the case that too many young people are being referred inappropriately.
That is a symptom of the fact that we haven’t got early intervention services right.
If the earlier services aren’t there then people will still fight for a referral to specialist CAMHS (children and adolescent mental health services). So although there’s been progress I don’t think that progress has been strong enough.
Whilst the education system is key to making improvements in this area, we are also very concerned about primary mental health care – we came to the conclusion that the improvements in that area that we should have seen by now have simply not emerged.
We don’t think this is acceptable.
In terms of the Welsh Government, in 2015 they established the ‘Together for Children and Young People Programme’ to improve emotional and mental health services for children and young people in Wales. Is the Committee confident that the Welsh Government is doing everything it can in this area?
Obviously the programme is very welcome. It’s introduced a focus on specialist CAMHS and extra resources, which are very welcome.
But I don’t think the focus on early intervention and universal resilience has been sufficient at all. It was meant to be a clear workstream within the programme and I don’t think we’ve seen the progress that we should have seen in that area.
The other area where I would have liked to have seen more progress is primary mental health care services for children and young people.
We were told that it’s going to be a focus for the programme in the next few months – my question then would be, why hasn’t it been in there as a key feature for the last three years?
What is the Committee hoping to see following the publication of this report?
We’ve made one key recommendation and 27 other detailed recommendations. Given the evidence that underpins them, we expect the Government to give them very serious consideration and we’re obviously hoping that it will accept all of them.
As important as the early intervention work is, it is also vital that young people who need a specialist service get that specialist service in a timely way.
As such, our intention is to follow up on every one of those recommendations very vigorously.
We are going to be returning to this issue on an ongoing basis and continuing to scrutinise the Welsh Government‘s progress in this area because it’s something that we absolutely have to get right. The report says we’ve got to see a step change.
I don’t want to be sitting in committees five years from now hearing yet again that mental health services for children and young people aren’t good enough – we have got to get this right this time.
Read the full report and find out more about the work of the Children, Young People and Education Committee via the National Assembly for Wales’ website. You can also follow the committee on Twitter @SeneddCYPE.
If you want to talk to someone about your emotional well-being and mental health, you can contact:
Meic Cymru on 080880 23456 or text on 84001 or through their online messaging service
Or C.A.L.L Helpline on 0800 132 737 or text ‘help’ to 81066